Berkeley’s Right to Know Ordinance - What is it?



Since the implementation of Berkeley’s Right to Know Ordinance five years ago, the city ordinance has faced numerous legal challenges from CTIA, a trade association representing the U.S. wireless communications industry.

Both the 9th U.S. Circuit Court and the Supreme Court had upheld the city ordinance. But this did not stop CTIA from challenging the ordinance as they found new support from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In fact, they filed an appeal to a federal court in California to rehear the case.

What is Berkeley’s Right to Know Ordinance?

Berkeley isn’t the first city to pass the Right to Know Ordinance. San Francisco legislated the same ordinance in 2010. However, the city government did not implement it because of the legal disputes it had with the telecommunications industry.

The Right to Know Ordinance requires cell phone retailers to inform their customers about the risks of smartphone radiation. This includes exposure to wireless radiation that exceeds the FCC’s safety levels when keeping smartphones in the pockets or near the body.  A fact sheet containing such detail shall be provided to the customers.

According to Berkeley’s city council, cell phone manufacturers are deliberately hiding the information on smartphone radiation. As a matter of fact, this kind of information is buried deep within the user manual and obscured in piles of texts that only a few will read.

A survey involving city residents showed that they rally around Berkeley’s city ordinance. The same survey revealed that 85 percent of the residents were never able to read the instructions from manufacturers on how consumers can protect themselves from wireless radiation. More so, 82 percent of the respondents said that safety information must be given to them at point sale.

FCC’s Involvement in this Legal Battle

The CTIA is now at arms with FCC in this legal battle against customer information. FCC claims that “cell phones are safe no matter how used.”

Thomas Johnson, FCC’s general counsel, said that manufacturers are already disclosing such information in their manuals. He also asserts that the Berkeley Ordinance is overly warning consumers with cell phone safety information; thus, should be federally pre-empted.

The point in question is: Why is FCC advocating for and defending the telecommunications industry that they should be regulating?

As for former state senator Mark Leno, the Berkeley Ordinance is simply alerting consumers how they are exposing themselves to radio-frequency radiation that could exceed the safe standard levels. Yes, the manufacturers are sharing this information, but in a very obscure way.

Mr. Leno championed a bill in the California Senate that would “put minimal safety information at the point of sale.” He said that the legal challenges hurled to Berkeley city council’s ordinance is an “abuse of our legal system and exhibits the flagrancy of the FCC and the wireless industry in covering up independent science in regard to public health.”

With what the FCC and the wireless industry are doing, they are putting everyone at a greater health risk. Consumers deserve to know this cell phone safety information at point sale so they can be properly guided on how they can use these devices with caution.